Media, culture, and politics from an aesthetic-materialist's perspective.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Palin's Conduct a "National Disgrace"

Christopher Hitchens is at best a moderate liberal but perhaps more accurately seen as a centrist, Samuel Huntington-type: a political secularist who firmly supports the grand, civilizational struggle against "radical Islam." Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw his endorsement for Barack Obama on Slate.com.

It's true that Hitchens musters a sort of qualified praise for the Democratic ticket ("the Obama-Biden ticket is not a capitulationist one, even if it does accept the support of the surrender faction, and it does show some signs of being able and willing to profit from experience"). But the British-born, Oxford-educated Hitchens is unqualified in his disdain for the McCain-Palin ticket. Here's the magazine critic's assessment of Palin's cross-country rallying over the past couple of weeks:
The most insulting thing that a politician can do is to compel you to ask yourself: "What does he take me for?" Precisely this question is provoked by the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin. I wrote not long ago that it was not right to condescend to her just because of her provincial roots or her piety, let alone her slight flirtatiousness, but really her conduct since then has been a national disgrace. It turns out that none of her early claims to political courage was founded in fact, and it further turns out that some of the untested rumors about her—her vindictiveness in local quarrels, her bizarre religious and political affiliations—were very well-founded, indeed. Moreover, given the nasty and lowly task of stirring up the whack-job fringe of the party's right wing and of recycling patent falsehoods about Obama's position on Afghanistan, she has drawn upon the only talent that she apparently possesses.
Ouch! As if that weren't bad enough, Hitchens has a few choice words regarding Palin's doing McCain's "dirty work" on the campaign trail:
[Last week's debate showed] Sen. John McCain to be someone suffering from an increasingly obvious and embarrassing deficit, both cognitive and physical. And the only public events that have so far featured his absurd choice of running mate have shown her to be a deceiving and unscrupulous woman utterly unversed in any of the needful political discourses but easily trained to utter preposterous lies and to appeal to the basest element of her audience. McCain occasionally remembers to stress matters like honor and to disown innuendoes and slanders, but this only makes him look both more senile and more cynical, since it cannot (can it?) be other than his wish and design that he has engaged a deputy who does the innuendoes and slanders for him.
One gets the impression from these passages that Sarah Palin -- who she is, what her function seems to be in this race, how she's carried herself since being nominated the Republicans' VP choice -- stands in Hitchens's mind for everything that's wrong with the Republican party today. Whereas selecting the infinitely more qualified Joe Lieberman (whom I disagree with fundamentally on the political issues but recognize as a capable and "experienced" leader) might have swung Hitchens toward McCain's camp, it's been Palin's selection that has left him wondering whether the Republican party is even invested in retaining its diminishing credibility to the American public.

I would point out that the Republicans' credibility has long been in tatters, not least because of the profound ideological gerrymandering that's gone into over thirty years of constituting the so-called "Southern Strategy." That method of wresting working-class whites in the South (and other agricultural/postindustrial regions in the US) away from the Democratic party has been responsible for the most horrifying and divisive political maneuvers in the past century: Willie Horton, "welfare queens," Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill, and anti-Arab sentiment. These discourses fall squarely on the shoulders of the Republican party, and Sarah Palin's career as a VP candidate is built on its foundations. Her entrance into the national political arena should come as no surprise, then -- it's the absurd yet unsurprising culmination of years of Republican ideological warfare in the form of moral haranguing, religious crusading, and racist/sexist scapegoating.

Despite Hitchens's shortsighted view of the situation, let's hope his wish that the American people will pronounce a resounding verdict against John McCain and Sarah Palin comes to fruition.

Zizek Gets It Right?

I'm not one to recommend Slavoj Zizek's online missives to people, but I thought his October 9 article from the London Review of Books struck some pretty sensible chords. In "Don't Just Do Something, Talk," Zizek critiques the government's $700 billion bailout plan by exposing some of the myths that have surrounded its labored passage. I find his points persuasive -- I daresay reasonable -- given the bizarre political configurations that have emerged to support/oppose the bailout. Zizek does well to parse how these political configurations have congealed around the question of whether or not the government should use taxpayers' money to "save" Wall St.

On the supposed "socialism" of the bailout plan:
If the bailout plan really is a ‘socialist’ measure, it is a very peculiar one: a ‘socialist’ measure whose aim is to help not the poor but the rich, not those who borrow but those who lend. ‘Socialism’ is OK, it seems, when it serves to save capitalism. But what if ‘moral hazard’ is inscribed in the fundamental structure of capitalism? The problem is that there is no way to separate the welfare of Main Street from that of Wall Street. Their relationship is non-transitive: what is good for Wall Street isn’t necessarily good for Main Street, but Main Street can’t thrive if Wall Street isn’t doing well – and this asymmetry gives an a priori advantage to Wall Street.
On how the US is already "socialistic" (not a model of free market capitalism) in terms of underwriting our agricultural economy at the expense of poor, Third World agricultural economies:
There is nothing new in strong state interventions into the banking system and the economy in general. The meltdown itself is the result of such an intervention: when, in 2001, the dotcom bubble burst, it was decided to make it easier to get credit in order to redirect growth into housing. Indeed, political decisions are responsible for the texture of international economic relations in general. A couple of years ago, a CNN report on Mali described the reality of the international ‘free market’. The two pillars of the Mali economy are cotton in the south and cattle in the north, and both are in trouble because of the way that Western powers violate the same rules that they impose so brutally on Third World nations. Mali produces cotton of the highest quality, but the US government spends more money to support its cotton farmers than the entire state budget of Mali, so it is small wonder that Mali can’t compete. In the north, the European Union is the culprit: the EU subsidises every single cow to the tune of five hundred euros a year. The Mali minister for the economy said: we don’t need your help or advice or lectures on the beneficial effects of abolishing excessive state regulations; just, please, stick to your own rules about the free market and our troubles will be over. Where are the Republican defenders of the free market here? Nowhere, because the collapse of Mali is the consequence of what it means for the US to put ‘our country first’.
On why the market is never "neutral" and demands to be tarried with politically:
What all this indicates is that the market is never neutral: its operations are always regulated by political decisions. The real dilemma is not ‘state intervention or not?’ but ‘what kind of state intervention?’ And this is true politics: the struggle to define the conditions that govern our lives. The debate about the bailout deals with decisions about the fundamental features of our social and economic life, even mobilising the ghost of class struggle. As with many truly political issues, this one is non-partisan. There is no ‘objective’ expert position that should simply be applied: one has to take a political decision.

In the 1992 election, Clinton won with the motto ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’ The Democrats need to get a new message across: ‘It’s the POLITICAL economy, stupid!’ The US doesn’t need less politics, it needs more.